Toni Townes-Whitley's passion to improve the public sector

Toni Townes-Whitley's passion to improve the public sector

Townes-Whitley on how she's helping to empower citizens, governments and public organisations

Richard Humphreys |

This article first appeared in the Winter issue of The Record

When speaking to Toni Townes-Whitley, it’s clear that she has a deep-seated passion to improve the public sector. This passion, she says, stems from her lifelong involvement, hailing from a family committed to improving other people’s lives. “I’m a fourth-generation teacher,” she explains. “My mom was an educator who was also awarded principal of the year, and my dad was three-star army general. So long before I embarked upon my professional career, my parents really helped to shape how I think about public service.”

Working in the public sector for more than 20 years, Townes-Whitley has witnessed some remarkable changes. “The world is being rapidly transformed by technology in what’s been called the fourth industrial revolution,” she says. “Cloud computing, smart devices, machine learning and the ongoing explosion of data are driving a digital transformation that’s fundamentally altering how we live, work and relate to one another.”

Yet while much of the world is being transformed, many people are being left behind, Townes-Whitley says. In fact, the benefits of advanced technologies remain out of reach for four billion people – or 60% of the world’s population. “This is among the defining issues of our time,” she says. “In a world in which technology is driving rapid change, it’s paramount that opportunities are generated for everyone, everywhere  – regardless of age, gender, ability or income.”

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more, and that starts with a strong company culture, according to Townes-Whitley. “Driving towards societal impact is ingrained in our culture, starting with our own employees raising hundreds of millions of dollars annually for non-profits,” she says. “Moreover, we’ve developed an ambitious go-to-market strategy that is driving more industry-differentiated solutions, that address the economic, social, and environmental challenges facing today’s world.”

To achieve its mission, Microsoft has been working closely with the public sector to assist leaders in making progress towards the UN Sustainability Development Goals and to expand economic opportunities for all, Townes-Whitley says. With reach into more than 190 countries, through a strong partner ecosystem Microsoft can build and implement innovative technology that is localised and specific to customers’ needs – across all industries ranging from public safety to healthcare to education.

To improve local communities, for example, Microsoft is partnering with cities around the world to create citizen-centric approaches to digital government. In the field of healthcare, it is powering cloud-connected devices that improve patient care and enable healthcare providers to collaborate more securely. And in education, it is equipping educators with predictive analytics to improve student outcomes and increase graduation rates. The company has also created programmes such as Microsoft YouthSpark, a global initiative that’s bringing computer science education to more than 300 million young people around the world. “These are just a few of the ways we’re changing the world through innovative technology and programmes,” Townes-Whitley explains. “We fully believe digital transformation can help public sector organisations achieve the UN sustainability development goals – and create a lasting social and economic impact where everyone benefits.”

But for the public sector to embrace digital transformation, Townes-Whitley warns that the right safeguards must be in place. “Public sector organisations and governments must navigate a complex web of security, privacy, data sovereignty and compliance requirements before they can even begin to think about the efficiencies, scale and insights that cloud-connected technologies offer,” she says. “We realise that customers will not use technology they do not trust, and they cannot trust technology they do not understand.”

To that end, Microsoft provides a National Assurance Program that offers public sector organisations a framework for addressing the complex web of legislative and policy issues many face. Moreover, Microsoft is serving the security needs of the public and private sectors by investing in cybersecurity and transparency centres in regions around the world.  “These are an extension of Microsoft’s long-standing Government Security Program (GSP) and are a cornerstone of their commitment to provide greater assurance of the integrity of our products and services,” Townes-Whitley explains. “The GSP provides governments reassurance that there are no ‘back doors’ in their products, and through Transparency Centers, they can work with Microsoft on security-related issues. Microsoft’s long-standing commitments to security, privacy and control, compliance and transparency have established the company as a trustworthy market leader. Security is built into our business products and cloud services from the ground up. We comply with both international and industry-specific compliance standards, we provide best-in-class cryptography and data encryption across our network and services.”

In addition, Microsoft has just launched a new cloud policy roadmap as part of its Cloud for Global Good initiative to bring about a trusted, responsible and inclusive cloud. The roadmap is designed to help policymakers take full advantage of the transformational benefits of the cloud through 78 recommendations in 15 policy categories. “We must assist public sector leaders in establishing new policies and regulations that adapt to emerging technologies around the cloud.  And, at the same time, build a cloud that benefits everyone,” Townes-Whitley says. “Our Cloud for Global Good initiative offers a roadmap for doing so, helping to bring about a future in which the cloud delivers social and economic benefits by powering solutions that integrate, analyse and filter massive quantities of data from any source, real-time - while reducing the costs of maintaining IT infrastructure.

Looking ahead, Townes-Whitley believes Microsoft is in a strong position to ensure a successful future for all citizens around the globe. “Twenty months ago, I joined a 40-year-old company – an iconic brand with a legacy of innovation and market creation – in the midst of full-scale transformation,” she says. “Why? Because Microsoft has a corporate commitment to achieving the boldest mission of any company in the industry – one that will create a safer, healthier, more just and sustainable world. I’m both excited and honoured to be a part of this transformation.”


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